Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Department of Unexpected Consequences

Malcolm Fisher sat with his legs extended under his desk, his hands folded over his stomach, and a slightly self-satisfied look on his face. There were three things in front of him: a manila folder with ‘Mr Johnson’ written neatly on the front; a mathematical instrument that looked like an overgrown abacus; and a small leather bound folder that contained a number of his favourite tram tickets, a sample of a much larger collection.

At 3.20PM, the door to his tiny office sprung open and a man in his early thirties strode into the room. The man was flustered; had clearly been running; and was breathing heavily from the unaccustomed exertion.

“Sorry I’m late,” he puffed, “I had a devil of time trying to-”

“That’s okay Mr Johnson,” Malcolm Fisher interrupted. “Please sit down.”

Mr Johnson drew a handkerchief out of his pocket and whipped it across his reddened face. He looked around the office nervously before lowering his ample frame into the chair opposite Malcolm Fisher.

“Now let’s see.” Malcolm Fisher opened the manila folder and began to shuffle through the pages it contained. “It says here that you’ve come to see us about your ex-fiancé. Is that correct?”

Mr Johnson was taken aback. “How in God’s name did you know that?” he exclaimed.

Malcolm tapped the abacus. “Calculations sir: that’s what we do.

“Now, Mr Johnson, you have come to complain that your fiancé left you as an indirect result of a new house being built on your street: a house that had the approval of the Department of Unexpected Consequences.”

It wasn’t a question, but Mr Johnson nodded anyway.

Malcolm Fisher left his chair and walked over to a small window in the corner of his office. It was a grey day; grey clouds rolled over a grey world, and umbrellas hurried up-and-down the cobbled street below.

“Mr Johnson, your fiancé’s departure was expected. We had foreseen that she would leave you for the occupant of the new house, but we calculated that she would have left you in three months anyway.

“I’m very sorry Mr Johnson. We thought you must have known something was amiss. Your neighbour, well, it wasn’t just your neighbour was it?”

Malcolm Fisher heard a small whimper and turned from the window to see Mr Johnson staring at his hands which were sandwiched firmly between his knees.

“Why?” Mr Johnson asked, a note of hopelessness in his voice.

Malcolm chuckled, “Our calculations are based on approximately 15 million variables, I’m sure you don’t want me to go through them all now, do you Mr Johnson?”

Mr Johnson looked up hopefully.

“No, of course you don’t,” Malcolm continued. “Suffice it to say, her father was an inept male role-model.”

Malcolm Fisher paused for a moment before adding “Will that be all, Mr Johnson?”

Mr Johnson’s last hope was gone: he was a shattered man. His chair scrapped slowly across the floor as he prepared to stand.

“Just one thing Mr Johnson, before you go. You caught the tram today. I was wondering if I could have your ticket: you kept it I believe? It’s a hobby of mine you see.”

Mr Johnson opened his wallet and pulled out a rectangular piece of cardboard. Malcolm Fisher stepped forward and took it out of his hand.

As the door closed behind Mr Johnson, Malcolm looked down at the ticket. It was as he hoped. The ticket was numbered 12345678.

Malcolm Fisher smiled as he slipped the ticket into his leather ticket holder: two years of hard work had finally paid off.

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